Happy World Breastfeeding Week, everyone! With the celebration this year, the healthcare center at SAS asked me to participate. I went on camera and talked about my journey a little. When I was contacted about doing it, I jumped at it and asked if I could speak to a specific issue: formula and pumping. I did both with both my kids and while I don’t regret a thing, I always felt kind of alone. I felt like I was forging my own journey. There was little out there for support. You are usually sifting through info from 2 vastly different sides. Either you exclusively breastfeed or just give formula and while neither is bad, it isn’t your only choice. The biggest group of moms this seems to effect is working moms. You go down a VERY common path. You start work and quickly see how hard it is to make those bottles. You pump and pump. You take from your maternity leave stash. You are living pump to pump. Then? Daycare says “he could use bigger bottles” and you heart sinks. How?
So a few years ago, while I was in the throws of this for the second time, I wrote a post I am reviving below. It is still relevant for new moms struggling to figure out that magical machine in a bag. Here ya go, mama…
Formula: You Aren’t Failing Your Kid
When I went back to work with Landon, we had nursing down pat. No more latch issues, a great 3 hour schedule and I was confident. I had never been “overflowing” and barely got engorged those first few days but I fed him just fine. He was happy and healthy. I headed back to the office with my shiny new Pump in Style to use throughout the day. Very quickly I realized that I couldn’t keep up with bottles. One major reason was my daycare was dominated by formula babies and those bottles need to be bigger over time. Breastmilk changes density over time with fat content, not volume. It isn’t the same as they get older. They would tell me he needed more and I would look at my sad little bottles at the end of each day and panic. (I learned that he should have never been needing 7 oz breastmilk bottles after the fact) I added extra pumps at night. I went and saw more lactation consultants. I bought supplements. I power pumped. I pumped every 2 hours. I tried everything I could think of. To put it lightly, I stressed to the point of anxiety attacks at “low supply” days. I wanted to make this breastfeeding thing work…but I was failing my baby…or so I thought.
After a particularly rough night, where my postpartum anxiety spiraled out of control, I took a day off work and pumped nothing. I was already freaking out from sleep deprivation and this didn’t help. I didn’t have enough for bottles the next day. I cried and cried. It was so hard to let go of the control but I found that can of Similac and made him a bedtime bottle of half breastmilk and half formula to make sure he could handle it. I had to feed my baby…period. He never batted an eye and chugged it down but I cried the whole time. I didn’t think formula was bad, I was just disappointed in myself for not being able to give him only breastmilk.
Flash forward to his first birthday. I pumped what I could for that first year and even kept nursing mornings and bedtime until 15 months. We had a beautiful journey and the one major note about breast milk was:
I gave him all I could.
After that first grieving period, I realized this fact. I was AWESOME for pumping all I could. There was literally no more I could pump but I did it. For 12 months, around the clock. Formula was there to fill in the gaps. He did just fine. He is now a super healthy 3.5 year old who, after his first year of daycare, is rarely sick.
This time around, with Oliver, formula came when my milk stopped letting down at night for some reason. We start giving him little bits to make sure he could tolerate it and now he has a few oz a day (3-5oz). I didn’t have the same decision making this time because I knew it would be just fine. Once again, he is getting everything I have and I am happy with that. I am still a person, not just a milk machine.
It Gets Better
Once I had the formula as a backup, life got a little easier. If I was out on the weekend and couldn’t make it home for a feeding, I didn’t have to panic about “How am I going to pump??!” If I had a low pump day, it wasn’t a blow to my ego or a panicky evening of “what do I do?” I just made a small bottle and added to it. It has even relieved some long term plans. I am planning to leave the boys in April and the thought of being responsible for all that pumping while gone? Scary stuff , especially since I am going to meet Mrs. Overproducer Kat. But now I know we are covered. It has taken a weight off and there is something to be said for that.
So I am here for that mom staring at the 4 oz she barely pumped all day and wondering how many more bags in the freezer are left, if any. It’s OK. I know it’s hard but your baby will be OK on formula. I promise. If you are stressed out and pumping is making you batty, it’s ok to stop. I know moms who can get away with nursing when with their baby and just giving formula bottles. Make it work for you. Give yourself a break. Step back and think about your sanity. You are amazing. You are a fabulous mother. Your baby is lucky to have such a dedicated mommy. Formula is there for a reason. Take the help. It will make a world of difference.
NOTE: Let’s all get on the same page. This post is not a pro formula or pro breastfeeding post. I am not here to address breastfeeding rates, formula marketing, or education around breastfeeding. So if you came here to beat your drum on your feeding platform, please realize this is post is for moms struggling with pumping at work. This is a place for community, not judging.
If you have questions about how to introduce formula to your breastfed baby, ask away. I am happy to answer anything. Also be sure to check out www.kellymom.com